Sunday, January 29, 2012

Man on A Ledge: A Review (Review #329)


Jump They Say...

I'm not going to bash Man On A Ledge.  If one watches it, one will enjoy it, but there's a caveat to that.  One must completely forget that there isn't much in Man On A Ledge in terms of acting or plot, everything is both remarkably predictable and far-fetched.

Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) nervously checks into the Roosevelt Hotel, has a meal, wipes his fingerprints off everything, and walks out on the ledge.  It doesn't take long for someone to see him, and soon the police come to stop the jumper.  At first, it's Detective Jack Dougherty (Ed Burns), but Nick makes an unusual request: he wants to speak to Detective Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) or he indeed will jump. 

Mercer, emotionally broken from a failed rescue attempt of another jumper, is all but dragged to the Roosevelt.  She isn't happy about it, and neither is Officer Marcus (Titus Welliver), the growly head of the rescue squad. 

As it turns out, not happy either is Nick's former partner, Mike Ackerman (Anthony Mackie), who wonders what exactly is going on.  However, one person is extremely happy about all this: gutter journalist Suzie Morales (Kyra Sedgwick).

Kyra Sedgwick as Suzie Morales.  Process that for a minute. 

Image result for man on a ledgeWe quickly learn, primarily through flashbacks, that Nick is a fugitive: a former cop who was convicted of stealing the Monarch Diamond, which he was suppose to be protecting, from the owner, real estate tycoon David Englander (Ed Harris).  Nick goes to prison, but makes a daring escape when he's allowed to go to his father's funeral, which forces him to beat up his own brother, Joey (Jamie Bell).  Now on the lam, he's on the ledge. 

As these types of films require a good twist or more to make things interesting, we get the first one rather quickly: Nick's suicidal act is really one gigantic ruse.  In reality, it's all part of a master plan to prove Nick's innocence.

How, pray tell?  Well, by proving the Monarch was never stolen in the first place!  How is this done?  By breaking into Englander's vault of course.  While Nick distracts the police by being on the ledge, Joey and his girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) will break into the building, steal the diamond, and prove Englander faked the robbery for the insurance money.  As time begins to run short for the Cassidy brothers, Englander is not too worried, at first, about the goings-on. 

This is because he has certain police on his payroll. 

As the situation unfolds, Mercer and Doughtery finally learn who the man they know as "J. Walker" (why that name made me laugh is anyone's guess but oddly, that name is a clue), Mercer believes him, we get a few more twists in the break-in and the Monarch Diamond, and eventually the bad cops are revealed, the good ones do their jobs, the Cassidy Brothers prove what needed to be proven, and an older valet at the hotel (Bill Sadler) proves unusually helpful to the two boys. 

Wonder what that was all about? 

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I can't help having a touch of cynicism on Man On A Ledge only because during the film, so much of Pablo F. Fenjves' screenplay was pretty obvious.  When it comes to Nick's "daring" escape, I almost immediately saw through it.  The same goes for the most helpful valet. 

And here is where I fault Man On A Ledge: everything in it is so amazingly predictable that the attempts to have these "shocking twists" don't pan out because they aren't shocking at all.  They're not exactly predictable in that one waits for them, but they aren't surprising.  If I was able to figure them out really quickly, then anyone should. 

Moreover, Man On A Ledge does what a lot of disposable action/thrillers do: they depend on a great many moments of fortuitous coincidences to occur.  We depend on everything in the plan going off without a hitch and which appears even harder given how almost inept Angie and Joey are at the actual break-in. 

I figure to pull of this elaborate heist, there would have to have been rehearsals and a casing of the joint.  How Joey or Angie could get at the complications of breaking into the vault where apparently no one ever goes ,not even a guard on the floor where said vault is or even anyone on that floor from the looks of it, we know not. 

Why Englander would keep this very valuable there rather than say at his mansion, or say in a Swiss vault, or how the Cassidys knew he kept it there, we know not. 

In one crucial moment, in order to cover up the explosion of breaking in, Nick is literally inches from falling over, but pulls back in the nick of time.  Why or how not one of them considered that maybe, just maybe, he actually could go over, again, we know not.

Image result for man on a ledgeMan On A Ledge also requires something else: a certain degree of stupidity to make it work.  Internal Affairs may be investigating and suspect certain rogue cops to be in cahoots with Englander, so of course they're going to let the same cops take charge of the situation of someone who at one point was working for them. 

Even though Nick Cassidy is a cop-turned-criminal, amazingly no one (Doughterty, Mercer, or Marcus) ever recognizes his face until the DNA proof comes in via a cigarette. 

I think it's the far-fetched nature of Man On A Ledge more than anything else that pushes the film down.  Granted, I know the movie isn't going for much other than entertainment in its hour and forty-odd minute running time, and if I forget that I'm not suppose to think I can clearly enjoy it.  However, I can't get those little things like plot or acting out of my measuring system: not if I figure things out well in advance, and not if I can't believe some of the performances.

Asger Leth certainly didn't take much care in how he directed his actors.  You can see this with people such as Ed Burns, a man who has built his entire acting career on being the quintessential sarcastic New Yorker.  I figure we aren't suppose to care much about Doughtery's life outside the job, but here, I could almost sense Burns thinking, "I say these words, I get paid, I'm outta here". 

Harris was just reveling in his ability to play the evil 1 Percenter (though I was surprised at how thin he was) and since we really don't need to go into his background the less we see this an an epic confrontation between the 'good cop framed' and the 'bad guy', the better.

I also note that during the standoff at the Roosevelt, a man who looked either homeless or who had wandered over from Occupy Wall Street was shouting something about how the rich guys weren't the ones going to jail.  How this mattered to anything that was going on I know not, but it might have been a nice touch to see a group of people on the street with drums chanting "This Is What Democracy Looks Like" to Suzie Morales' camera, a moment of humor in the film.  Yet I digress.

It was nice to see Bell going for a bit of humor whenever he and his girlfriend start doing witty sniping at each other during the robbery though one wonders whether, again, it made sense that they would choose this particularly tense time to do their version of a Burns & Allen routine; when he and Nick had their 'fight', I said to myself, "FAKE!". 

The second worst performance was Sedgwick, who was not only grossly miscast as the Latina Suzie Morales (the audience I was with laughed several times, mostly in good nature, in Man On A Ledge, but the biggest laughter came when Sedgwick emphasized her character's last name) but while we saw she was a predatory character she was really superfluous to the story.

The worst performance was from Worthington, an actor that continues to struggle to be convincing.  In all the films of his that I've seen: Avatar, the Clash of the Titans remake, Terminator: Salvation, and The Debt, Worthington isn't called on to be a person of full range.  Well, maybe in The Debt he was slightly better than he has been before, but by and large Worthington just has such a hard time expressing any kind of emotion on screen (or completely losing his Australian accent). 

He appears to be a cross between Taylor Lautner and Robert Pattinson: someone who is being built up to be a big action star (Lautner) but who is also a more serious actor (Pattinson).  The fact that neither Lautner or Pattinson have actually done anything close to a performance doesn't bode well for them, but given that Worthington is still stumbling in his efforts to find a range doesn't bode well for him either.

Man On A Ledge isn't by any means a bad film and certainly not the worst film of 2012.   It's dumb but in a slightly entertaining way.  That is, if you're willing to forget that people aren't bringing their A-Game to the film and the story itself is highly contrived, ridiculous, far-fetched, and built on far too many happy turns of fortune to be believed. 

I figure Man On A Ledge knows what it is, doesn't pretend to be anything else, doesn't aspire to be anything else, and for that I don't fault it.  Really, if it weren't for the film's predictability, I would have enjoyed it more.  Did I enjoy Man On A Ledge?  Slightly, but not enough for me to take a dive for it.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sarah's Key: A Review


La Clé D'Un Passé Tragique...

Holocaust films tend to revolve, rightly, around the actual victims inside the camps.  It isn't often films deal with those on the outside: not collaborators but those living during the Nazi occupation, who weren't party to the horrors around them but who still go through some of the consequences that are almost beyond bearable.  Sarah's Key takes us to where few Holocaust-related films have gone to: to those who were neither perpetrators or straight-out victims but who still, generations later, bear the scars of the most monstrous and inhuman era in recorded history. 

Sarah's Key has two intertwining stories from 2009 and 1942.  In the present-day, American journalist and expatriate Julia (Kristen Scott Thomas) has decided to do a feature-length article about the roundup of French Jews in Paris under the Occupation.  She has her own problems: a teenage daughter and a French husband named Betrand (Frédéric Pierrot) who is deeply immersed in business and not to thrilled to find he is going to be a father again. 

Image result for sarah's key movieHer research gets into the story of young Sarah Starzynski (Melusine Mayance).  She is one of the thousands rounded up by the French police where she, her father and mother are held at the Vel' d'Hiver bicycle track. 

The conditions are appalling: little water, no bathrooms, and desperate people committing suicide.  In a fateful move, Sarah gets her younger brother Michel to hide in a secret room at their Parisian flat, with Sarah taking the key.  Her early story involves her desperate attempt to get back to the flat and let Michel out.  On her journey back, she is forcibly separated from her parents, escapes with another girl with the help of a French camp guard, and taken in by a kindly French couple.  Once Sarah does arrive back at her old home, the discovery of Michel, while unseen, is still a horror.

It's now, during Julia's research, that she makes a shocking discovery of her own: it is her husband's family who had taken the apartment and her father-in-law and his father who are there when Sarah bursts in to find what remains of enfant Michel.  Her future in-laws were thoroughly unaware of Michel's existence and that the secret behind Sarah's Key was kept by Betrand's father and grandfather. 

Said father-in-law, Eduard Tezac (Michel Duchaussoy) would have preferred for this to have been buried with him as it was buried with his father, but Julia is determined to find out what happened to Sarah, who was not listed as having been murdered by the Nazi or Vichy regimes.

Eduard tells Julia that his father had kept in touch with Sarah's adopted family, and from here she tracks down Sarah's story.  Sarah functions, but sinks into bouts of melancholia.  Eventually she leaves for America, and marries.  At first Julia believes she's found Sarah, but we learn that the Mrs. Rainsferd she's tracked down is the second Mrs. Rainsferd.  Sarah Rainsferd had died in the 1960's in a car accident. 

At first, it appears to be the end of Julia's search, until the second Mrs. Rainsferd tells her Sarah and her husband Richard had a son.  Now Julia goes from Brooklyn to Florence, where William Rainsferd (Aidan Quinn) at first rejects the idea that his mother Sarah Rainsferd is also Sarah Strazynski, a Jew.  Eventually, his father Richard, close to death, tells him of Sarah's background and Jewish ancestry.

In the coda, we go to 2011.  Julia is now divorced from Betrand and living back in New York with her new daughter.  She reunites with William, who tells her he's met Sarah's French adopted family.  He also learns that Julia's infant daughter is named Sarah.

Image result for sarah's key movieThe theme of Sarah's Key can be summed up by what a minor character, a historian who gives Julia information about the Vel' D'Hiver  roundup tells her: if you look into it, you don't come out unscathed. 

Any film about a difficult subject, ranging from the Shoah to slavery to September 11th, has already a heavy burden to it.  The positive thing about Sarah's Key is that this little-known story is handled on an intimate level.  In other words, rather than attempt to give us a grand overview of what occurred during the Vichy regime, the film instead does two things right: one, it keeps us focused on one particular family and two, it balances remarkably well the stories of Sarah and Julia without shortchanging one or the other.

Major credit for this is due to director Gilles Paquet-Brenner, who also co-wrote the screenplay based on Tatiana De Rosnay's novel with Serge Joncour.  Whenever we go from 1942 to 2009, the transitions flow easy and are rarely jarring.  The film also allows us to understand that Julia is not just doing research on Sarah's story and that there is nothing outside of that for her. 

Instead, we see that she is a full person: marital problems, problems with her in-laws, all these things allow us into her private life.  Where in other films the research may have overwhelmed her private life to where it becomes all-consuming, Sarah's Key allows us to have those respites and see Julia has troubles of her own which would make an interesting story in and of itself.

Image result for sarah's key movie
It truly is incredible that after her splash in The English Patient, Kristen Scott Thomas hasn't been as big a star as her talents should have made her.  She is perfect in both English and French, and even more remarkable is the fact that her American accent is flawless.  Scott Thomas underplays Julia, never going for big emotional moments but instead registering her horror, her anger, in small ways. 

For example, when she discovers both what actually happened to Michel and that her own father-in-law knew the truth about Sarah, her reaction is one of shock and horror, but it's never big.  Instead, it is almost quite, which makes it all the more tragic.

Credit should also be given to Mélusine Mayance as the younger Sarah.  She has a very difficult task: to make Sarah an average girl, one with fear but also with a determination to rescue her brother at all costs.  Her best moment is when she finally comes back to the apartment: her racing up to get to him as fast as possible actually inspires a fleeting moment of hope, while her discovery of Michel's ultimate fate is all the more horrifying and haunting. 

Even though we never actually see Michel, Paquet-Brenner creates a scene where what we can see in our own mind is far more horrifying than what could have been shown.  He showed great restraint in what was already a gruesome scenario, and Mayance carried that off brilliantly.

In the smallest of roles, Quinn is an actor that really should work more.  Like Scott Thomas, Quinn in his few brief moments does a good job of making his William someone who can't quite come to terms that everything he knew about his mother was not true. 

It really isn't until the war's end where Sarah's Key starts to flag, as if the story was becoming exhausted.  I got the sense that once we found that Sarah left for America, we were rushing headlong to end it all.  The momentum was lost, and it became a series of "hit this point, then this point, then that point".  Throwing in the second Mrs. Rainferd, then throwing in the unknown son, then throwing in his discovery of his mother's secret past: again, it appeared as if everyone was rushing.

A minor fault I found to an overall engrossing film.  Sarah's Key isn't about the actual crimes perpetrated by the Nazis and their Vichy collaborators.  Instead, it's about those who are caught up in horrifying situations not of their doing, and that there were victims of all types.  It is about how the truth may set one free, but how it can also be a painful and traumatic experience for those who were indirectly affected by things beyond their control. 

In Sarah's Key, there are few if any villains, but rather all sorts of collateral damage to acts of unspeakable evil.  Then again, even if it causes tremendous pain, these evils must be spoken of, lest we forget...


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Moneyball: A Review


Although I don't follow baseball, I agree with Billy Beane in Moneyball: there is a romanticism to the game.  There is a magic to the game, full of figures that become larger than life: from the nobility of Lou Gehrig and the stoicism of Joe DiMaggio right down to the final triumph of the Red Sox after a seemingly eternal World Series drought.  Moneyball is the story of the little team that almost could, and in particular their general manager who decided that the only way to tackle seemingly insurmountable odds against him was to merely change the rules.

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) has some great players with his Oakland Athletics; with Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi on his roster, the A's make it to the American League Division playoffs against the mighty and better financed New York Yankees.  We start with the A's coming up short.  Not only do they lose the game and the chance to go on to the World Series, but they also lose their star players with both Damon and Giambi going out for greener pastures.

With a low roster and the smallest budget in baseball, Beane knows he won't be able to buy expensive players.  While on a trip to Cleveland to see about trading players, he comes across Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale economics grad who has faith in statistics.  More specifically, a belief that a good team can be had with a small budget by crunching the numbers of underused and undervalued players, measuring their statistics (averages, number of hits and runs) and by combining them, come out with a winning team.  Beane is highly intrigued by this idea, and with it a chance to both shake up how things are done and perhaps to get a winning team.

Image result for moneyball movieBeane charges full-steam ahead, with only Brand on his side.  His decision to get unorthodox players based not on the way they've done their drafting before (such as a player's looks or popularity) but based solely on the numbers horrifies just around everyone on the A's recruiting board.  The A's manager Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) thinks the idea is idiotic and won't play the team Beane champions, instead going with the ones he thinks will win the games.

At first, things go badly for the A's.  The team is floundering and Beane is held to blame. However, after Beane forces Howe's hand to play the team that he and Brand put together, the A's start having a series of success.  The A's start winning game after game after game, going for an all-time record of 20 straight wins, including a dramatic win over the Kansas City Royals, where the A's started out with an eleven-point lead to blowing it into an eleven-all tie and a dramatic homerun in the final inning.  However, Beane won't be satisfied until the A's win the last game, which they don't. 

Coupled with all this are scenes from Beane's private life: both his relationship with his daughter and  his ex-wife and her new husband, a non-baseball watcher, and from his past as a prospective baseball phenom who gave up a scholarship to Stanford for a chance to play in the Majors only to find his pro ball career coming to an ignoble end. 

Moneyball is a film that is not strictly about baseball, in particular because we don't see all that much baseball playing in the film itself.  Instead, the film is about Beane himself, about his efforts to try something different in order to achieve his goal of winning a World Series.

On another level, Moneyball is a film about a man who loves the game and wants to leave his mark on it, if not on the field itself at least then on how to do more with less.

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As portrayed by Pitt, Billy Beane is above all a realist, someone who knows the limits he faces and also knows the system doesn't work.  Beane is aware that he can't outspend the other teams, so he needs to find another way.  When he comes across Brand's numbers-crunching, it appears to be the answer.

Pitt's Beane is a remarkably controlled individual, rarely expressing anger but making his frustrations clear about how his method, of which he has full confidence in, is constantly thwarted by small minds determined to stick with what they know even if the results will be the same.

Pitt excels in his scenes outside the field, in particular with his daughter.  We see the genuine love he has for her; thanks to that we have a fully-rounded individual who sees baseball as his job, one he wants to do the very best at, but whose life is his family.  He also brings a sadness to Beane, whenever we see his past as a Major League player.  Beane has been all but bred to play the game, and has been told by the scouts that he has the skills to be among the greats.  However, his career on the field proved otherwise.

In a small but excellent scene, Beane over the phone asks Brand if he would have drafted Beane right out of high school.  After an uncomfortable pause, Brand tells him he would have taken Beane in the ninth round, if at all.  Knowing what he knows about his career and seeing Brand won't sugarcoat the truth to him, we see into both their characters: both are honest, direct, and interested only in winning.

Hoffmann has a small role, but he makes the most of it.  He also maintains great control, but his Howe makes it clear he doesn't see things the way Beane and Brand do, so he does as he thinks right.  Jonah Hill moves away from his schlub-comic persona to be a remarkably quiet schlub, a person who is slightly insecure among all the athletes but who has full confidence in his numbers.  Granted, oftentimes he appears to just be staring, but at least he's not trying to make us laugh, so that's a plus.

Related imageSteven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin adapted Michael Lewis' nonfiction book (with story by Stan Chervin) and did a great job in translating it by focusing less on the actual results of the games and more on the human drama.  You have this team made up of the likes of David Justice (Stephen Bishop) a player once a big star but whose age is seen as a handicap and who is looking for one last shot, and Scott Hatterberg (Chris Pratt) another player dismissed but who sees in the A's a chance to rise to a great one.

Bennett Miller doesn't spend much time on the games themselves, however, when we do see the game, in particular the A's/Royals game, we do get beautiful moments that speak to that 'magic' baseball has (even for those who don't know what shortstop and outfield mean).  As he did with Capote, he doesn't have such things as a distracting score or various story threads.

While he gives certain characters their moments, by keeping the focus on Beane both professionally and personally, Moneyball becomes less a movie about baseball than a movie about a man who is determined to make a success out of what he's been given.

I can't find anything particularly bad with Moneyball save for the fact that as good as the film is, I couldn't get passionate about it.  It might have been due to the fact that while efficient, Moneyball doesn't attempt to be inspirational.   Like the numbers game it emphasizes, the film does its job, does it well, but doesn't stir the emotions.

 In short, I don't think Moneyball is a bad film.  I just didn't get inspired by it, didn't get a sense that I should care all that much about Billy Beane or the A's.

Actually, that's not entirely true.  I did get inspired in one respect.  Given how much emphasis there was in getting value for money, I began to wonder what would happen if Hollywood started adapting the same facts and figures to their lineup of stars.  In short, what would happen if the studios found out certain stars were overpaid and under-performing, then started hiring actors, writers, directors, who could make a good film but with limited budgets while cutting the same who weren't.  Now that's a film I would cheer for.

Born 1962

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

84th Academy Awards: My Oscar Ballot

Well, now we have the official nominations for the 84th Annual Academy Awards. 

Is it the 84th already?  It seems only yesterday that Snow White was dancing with Rob Lowe.

We find that Hugo has 11 nominations, the most of any film, followed closely by The Artist's 10.  The Artist was going to get nominated.  That's no surprise.  It does mean that it now becomes the first silent film to earn a Best Picture nomination since 1929's The Patriot (sadly a lost film). 

Now, I give you what would have been my ballot if I were to choose.  Granted, I have not seen every nominee and I suspect other Academy members haven't either.  This is not a predictions list, but a 'personal choice' list.


The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse


Albert Nobbs
Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part II
The Iron Lady


The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement
God is the Bigger Elvis
Incident in New Baghdad
Saving Face
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom


Hell and Back Again
If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Movement
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory


The Shore
Time Freak
Tuba Atlantic


The Fantasic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
La Luna
A Morning Stroll
Wild Life


A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss In Boots


Bullhead (Belgium)
Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)
A Separation (Iran)
Footnote (Israel)
In Darkness (Poland)


Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part II
Real Steel
Rise of Planet of the Apes
Transfomers: Dark of the Moon


The Artist
Harry Potter & The Deadly Hallows: Part II
Midnight in Paris
War Horse


The Artist
Jane Eyre


The Artist (Michael Hazanavicius)
Bridesmaids (Anne Mumolo and Kristen Wiig)
Margin Call (J.C. Chandor)
Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)


The Descendants (Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash)
Hugo (John Logan)
The Ides of March (George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon)
Moneyball (Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin, story by Stan Chervin)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Bridget O'Connor and Peter Staughan)


The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo


The Artist (Guillaume Schiffman)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Jeff Cronenweth)
Hugo (Robert Richardson)
The Tree of Life (Emmanuel Lubezki)
War Horse  (Janusz Kaminski)


The Adventures of Tintin (John Williams)
The Artist (Ludovic Bource)
Hugo (Howard Shore)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Alberto Iglesias)
War Horse (John Williams)


Man or Muppet (music & lyrics by Bret McKenzie)  The Muppets
Real in Rio (music by Sergio Mendes & Carlinhos Brown, lyrics by Siedha Garrett) Rio*


Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn)
Jonah Hill (Moneyball)
Nick Nolte (Warrior)
Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)


Bérénice Bejo (The Artist)
Jessica Chastain (The Help)
Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs)
Octavia Spencer (The Help)

Demian Bichir (A Better Life)
George Clooney (The Descendants)
Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
Brad Pitt (Moneyball)


Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)
Viola Davis (The Help)
Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)
Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn)


Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Alexander Payne (The Descendants)
Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)


The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

These are, again, not predictions about who will win, only on whom I'd like to win.  Let's see how things turn out February 26.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Red Tails: A Review


Those Daring Black Men in Their Flying Machines...

The Tuskegee Airmen deserve all the accolades and honors that a most grateful nation can bestow for their true heroism.  In 2021, the United States Mint will issue its final National Parks Commemorative Quarters for the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. 

Red Tails is the feature film that details the rise of the Tuskegee Airmen, and to its credit it isn't a dry history lesson.  To its detriment, it isn't much else.

It's Italy, 1944, and the Negro* airmen don't have much to do in terms of actually engaging the enemy.  If they do, it's really more by accident and persistence than by direct orders. 

This frustrates the pilots: the more sober but ironically alcoholic flight commander Marty "Easy" Julian (Nate Parker) and his wingman, hot-shot/hot-tempered Joe "Lightning" Little (David Oyelowo).  The impediments to advancement and combat also bother other pilots: the devout "Deacon/Deke" Watkins (Marcus T. Paulk), the comical Samuel "Joker" George (Elijah Kelley) and equally amusing Andrew "Smokey" Salem (R & B star Ne-Yo), and the youngster Ray "Junior" Gannon (Tristan Wilds) who would rather go by another nom de guerre: "Ray-Gun". 

Their commanding officers, Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) and Major Emmanuel Stance (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) constantly fight to get the airmen better equipment and actual combat duty, despite the resistance of barely concealed racist Colonel Mortamus (Bryan Cranston).  Despite the obstacles, the necessity of war forces their situation: Major General Luntz (Gerald McRaney) needs dependable escorts for his flying fortresses, and the Tuskegee Airmen appear to be able to do the job.  With that, the Tuskegee Airmen finally take full flight. 

To mark themselves as distinct from their fellow fliers, the defiant men paint their airplane tails red.

Image result for red tailsSomewhere along the way in Red Tails, we get other story threads: there is a little romance between Lighting and an Italian signorina named Sofia (Daniela Ruah), some pilots don't make it to V-E Day, Easy's alcoholism grows while remaining remarkably hidden to everyone save for Lighting, and Junior falls behind enemy lines and ends up in Stalag 17 (technically Stalag 19, but given how the story goes, you might as well have William Holden in the next bunk). 

We end with the Red Tails achieving what they had earned by deeds: the salute of their white military leaders.

Somehow, the idea of bringing the story of the Tuskegee Airmen to the big screen appears to be a no-brainer.  It's a story with action, adventure, romance, and the bonus of personal courage despite unfair obstacles.  Red Tails, however, drops the ball slightly by not giving the characters anything to do when they are on the ground. 

On has to give enormous credit to director Anthony Hemingway for creating simply wonderful moments of aerial combat.  Red Tails opens with a spectacular dogfight that to my mind was highly reminiscent of those from the epic Wings, and whenever we see the Airmen fighting the Germans or taking on the Nazi war machine be it over land or sea, the film is wildly impressive and exciting. 

It's only when we get on the ground that Red Tails loses its way.  Every time we are suppose to get the human lives behind the Tuskegee Airmen, we are loaded up with stock characters: the religious man, the comic, the by-the-book leader, the hotshot "Maverick" (pun intended) and the rookie. 

Moreover, Aaron McGruder and John Ridley's screenplay, based on a story by Ridley, at times almost becomes unintentionally comical.  As I looked over my notes, I somehow managed to write the phrases "Easy on the booze" and "Lightning crashes", only realizing later that they both sound like awful puns but in fact are an accurate description of the events in the film. 

Image result for red tails
Moreover, the plot appears to be a patchwork of other World War II films.  I mentioned that the subplot of Ray "Ray-Gun" Gannon being in a prisoner of war camp appeared to be almost out of Stalag 17, but then we go to a quick shift into The Great Escape and as unbelievable as it sounds, even a hint of Pearl Harbor. 

In the two hours of Red Tails, it isn't until about an hour into it that Junior has to bail out and is captured.  He then goes into the camp, meets with the stalag leader, then we go back to the other Airmen, and then after a long absence, we see him about to escape the P.O.W. camp.  What really happened between Junior's capture and his escape?  How did he manage to be part of this master-plan?  How did he get the things they needed to get out?  Did he build any genuine friendships? 

Oddly, a whole movie could have been made just out of Ray-Gun's exploits, but because we simply had too many characters with only a few having any story threads, the film had no choice but to jump around and give us only the sketchiest of details. 

Moreover the details we do get are remarkably boring and only stop to slow the film down.   The romance between Lightning and Sofia appeared to be almost rammed in because all good war films require a love story, and Easy's frustrations of having to live up to his father's high expectations, along with his functional alcoholism, again are touched on but not explored. 

It's as if Red Tails only wants to give us the thinnest information about the various pilots in order to give them a touch of a backstory. 

I fault the screenplay for most of Red Tails' failures to be as good as it could have been.  I counted four 'inspirational speeches', all given by Howard, as part of the problem.  His Colonel Bullard had obviously risen high in the Army, but in Red Tails, his chief purpose was to rally the troops by giving inspiring messages to them (Terence Blanchard's score only emphasizes how 'important' and 'inspiring' the Colonel's words are suppose to be).

My biggest issue with Red Tails is that we never really got to know the characters.  What kind of men were they?  Did they have fear?  Did they have hope that things would improve?  What about their interpersonal relations?  Aside from Lighting's romance with Sofia, one would have almost thought all of them were monks given their lack of love lives.  Aside from Deacon you would have little indication that they had much of a faith system.  Aside from Easy's hinted father issues you'd think all their families from parents to wives to children were non-existent. 

I was ready to give Red Tails a barely passing grade because it wasn't terrible but not as good as it could have been.  That is, until we got to near the end, when we get a terrible and unfair twist with a character that is plain cheating and frankly opens up a great deal of questions involving points of logic.  I refer to this as a Pearl Harbor situation: you've been led to believe a character has died in war only to have him pop back up very much alive and looking even better than when we last saw him. 

At that point, I actually said out loud, "Oh, come on!" because it didn't work.  Add to that, it didn't make any sense: we've been given that character's dogtags, for heaven's sake, and told that they should be given to Easy 'in case he didn't make it'.  It's only fair to assume he didn't make it.  However, somehow he actually made it, which begs the question: did the guy who brought said dogtags to Easy realize that character wasn't dead or was he so dumb that he thought he was?  How did he know he was dead?  Was it all part of a practical joke?

I call such plot devices 'cheating', which is something the Tuskegee Airmen did not do.  You can't fault the film for good intentions and a noble outlook.  You CAN fault them for bungling the job.  Again: something the Tuskegee Airmen did not do.

Their story needs to be told and just needs a better movie to do so.

*As the term 'Negro' was in common use at the time setting of Red Tails, I used it in that context.


Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie. A Review (Review #325)


I was not as enamored with the teen show Glee as all my other church friends were, and I put that up to the fact that, unlike them, I have seen actual musicals versus what Glee presents: warmed-over pop song covers shoehorned into whatever plot is thrown in.   Granted, I did find things in what I saw of Glee that I thought were good: some of the acting, a few character arcs, and some of the actual singing and musical staging.

However, as time has gone by, I believe my views on Glee have grown harder and harsher. I could up to a point tolerate how the songs were jammed into the story rather than be allowed to flow naturally.

However, Glee became a willing victim of its own excess and press: All Those Guest Stars!  Theme Weeks!  A Spin-Off Where They Looked For the Next Guest Character! Repetitious Stories!

That last part was what I thought Glee was: Spanish teacher/Glee Club sponsor Mr. Schuester would rally his checklist group (all races, genders, sexual orientations and special needs students) into PUTTING ON A SHOW, villainous Coach Sue Sylvester would get wind of it and plot against them only to be foiled, and repeat.

It was turning into an oddball version of American Idol.

Of course, I had long maintained that Glee was basically The O.C. meets Cop Rock, but at least for the first year or so critics salivated to what they saw as 'originality'.   It is only now, that the ratings have gone down, the enthusiasm has gone way down among the 'Gleeks', and I predict that within two to three years, Glee will have its swan song.

More than anything else, Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie  may be the apex of its shameless self-promotion and belief in its own brilliance, this idea that Glee is the Citizen Kane of television programming.

Despite it being a popular show (curiously enough, with born-again Christian youth groups who don't appear bothered by the open homosexuality and premarital sex abounding on it), I really don't believe people were calling en masse for a film version of Glee.  However, we got it, and its a curious creature: part concert film, part informercial.

We get what one would expect on Glee: a bunch of young adults and in Cory Monteith's case, a nearly-thirty-year-old passing as a high school student, doing a series of covers of songs ranging from Aretha Franklin to Lady Gaga. However, in what in retrospect might be a more disturbing element,  we also throw in interviews with the members of their cult (said Gleeks) telling us variations of "Glee saved my life". 

Somehow, Glee isn't just a television show.  It's a source of salvation.

Image result for glee the 3d concert movieAll these people going on stage, their adoring fans screaming as if in a revival, are a blur to those of us who don't see Glee as entertainment or salvation. 

I think this is why Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie, is really so hard for those not in the know to embrace.  The show itself is perplexing, and the movie doesn't bother to try to set anything in context.  It assumes you are already immersed in the Glee-World, and if you're not, it keeps you out, just like the Cheerios (see, I do know a few things).

How ironic that a spectacle like Glee: The 3-D Movie which is ostensibly about inclusion does everything to keep non-Gleeks as outcasts among the sparkles and showstoppers. 

Here's the best way to break down Glee: The 3-D Movie: a concert film where we see the various actors perform the songs they remade famous.  However, as I was watching, it was becoming harder and harder to figure out whether I was watching the actual actors or the characters doing the songs. 

This comes courtesy of the way director Kevin Tancharoen put the actual show together.  We get a great many performances. I counted a total of 20 songs, which to my mind must have been an inordinately long evening but very little that would indicate that those on stage were portraying the characters.

We get a few hints in the forms of what appear to be sketches between them addressing each other by their character's names (and for those of us not with the "in crowd", we really don't know who or what they are) but it's clear that Glee 3-D isn't interested in actually telling a story or integrating the songs into any story.

Not unlike the show itself. 

Image result for glee the 3d concert movieWhat I can say about the actual musical performances were that there were hit and miss.  What I always say about Glee is that they are covers, a bit like having a good karaoke singer perform.  They are just doing the song, not actually giving a performance. 

The best or worst example is whenever Lea Michele, from whom I get the impression that she believes herself to be a true legend, attempts her very damnedest to be the new Barbra Streisand. We see this when she does not one but two musical numbers that Babs made legendary: Don't Rain on My Parade from Funny Girl and the duet of Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again first done by Judy Garland and Streisand.

It isn't that she isn't without some talent; it's just for me that as hard as she tries Michele isn't Streisand, or even that good of a Streisand impersonator.  Moreover, it makes things more confusing when the backstage footage has her playing her character of Rachel but some of her other castmates appear to be playing themselves.

As for some of the others, they ranged from the bizarre sight of Mark Salling/Puck singing an ode to fat girls (who knew Puck was a chubby-chaser) to the downright perverse. Heather Morris' cover of Britney Spears' I'm A Slave 4 U looked like it was a porn moment for the dads.

Yes, I am aware that she was recreating Spears' performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, but given that she is suppose to be playing a high school student, it does make things awfully unseemly when men who appear to be in their fifties are seen cheering like tween girls at Justin Bieber. Moreover, the numbers to the uninitiated appear flat-out pointless.

I'd also like to say that, sorry Heather: as bad a singer as Brit-Brit may be, she's miles ahead of you.

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Given that I come to Glee 3-D with barely a knowledge of who is who or what is what, I found Kevin McHale to be the weakest singer.  He had not one but two big numbers: a cover of Michael Jackson's PYT-Pretty Young Things and Men Without Hats' Safety Dance.

The first was nothing special, but I have always found the second to be a mechanical, robotic rendition, and his weak vocals don't help.  Was it meant to be robotic?  Perhaps, I've no idea.

I digress to point out that it might nice for his character of Artie to imagine he can walk out of his wheelchair with the greatest of ease given McHale is not handicapped, but one can't say the same for all those in wheelchairs who don't have that luxury to just get up and walk away.

Allow me again to point out that there are some remarkably creepy moments.  During the show we get endless shots of the fans squealing with delight whenever one of their favorites gets up and gets down.  Somehow, I can't understand how people well past middle age could be waving their foam fingers up in the air like they just don't care.  I felt sad for them: all these men cheering on people old enough to be their grand-kids as if they were actual members of New Directions. 

Image result for glee the 3d concert movieHonestly, Grow UP!

Now, in the mix of all the song and dance, we get a trio of 'inspirational' stories intercut within Glee 3-D.  There is Janae, the midget cheerleader (she called herself a midget, so don't get on my case), Josey, the Asperger's Syndrome-afflicted fan who found a release to be social via Glee, and Trenton, who saw in Chris Colfer's character of Kurt a role model which allowed him to come out as a proud gay teen.

Every so often we cut to their stories, although how exactly Safety Dance connects with midget cheerleader Janae becoming Prom Queen one never figures out.  It's nice to see Janae, Josey, and Trenton doing well for themselves (though to be frank, I'm fighting the temptation to say I seriously doubt anyone would have thought Trenton was ever in the closet given how he was, but I digress), and they may all put their better lives to being the result of Glee, but Glee 3-D again doesn't make a connection between their stories and the performances.

The stories in fact only appear to be there to point out just how important Glee believes itself to be, how the world is a better place because of it.  My view is that no television program could ever be that important.

Finally, I want to point out to Kellen Sarmiento, the "Mini-Warbler" who has become famous for being able to imitate an imitation, in this case Darren Criss' rendition of Katy Perry's Teenage Dream.  It might just be me, but someone, a five-year-old singing "Let's go all the way tonight/No regrets, just love" doesn't look cute; it looks, again, creepy.  Or am I wrong to think a toddler singing "let you put your hands on my, in my skin-tight jeans" may just be a bit weird?

One more thing: as in almost all 3-D films, really, what was there in Glee: 3-D that made such tricks necessary? 

Glee celebrates the outsider, the unpopular kids, the 'losers'.  It's a strange thing that Glee: 3-D did everything to keep those who aren't part of New Directions out of the loop.  If you are a Gleek (and trust me, within five years you won't be), Glee: 3-D may thrill you.

For those of us who are more Academic Decathlon than Glee Club, everything about Glee: 3-D is like Glee the show: one-note.


June 2018 Update: As it stands, Glee has had very sad postscripts. Cory Monteith and Mark Salling died by their own hand: Monteith of a drug overdose at 31 two years after the concert film was released, and Salling by hanging himself in January 2018 after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Review


Holmes and His Little Shadow...

I believe Sherlock Holmes is a piece of crap that bastardized the entire Holmesian Canon, and to have anything related to Guy Ritchie's mess of a film would be an insult to the memory of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

However, seeing how Sherlock Holmes was such a hit, it stood to reason that there would be another Sherlock Holmes movie.  Thus, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Longtime readers will know that I always say that whenever you see a colon in the title, it's a clear indication that those behind that particular film will make more of them.  Given that, it's not surprising that A Game of Shadows would be the first of perhaps many sequels, a whole Holmesian Cinematic Universe. 

What is surprising is that somehow, despite their best efforts, they managed to make a film even worse than the first. 

The plot of A Game of Shadows may be convoluted and idiotic on screen, but elementary to describe: it's a remake of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in all but name.  Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) is planning to start a world war and profit from it.  It's up to his intellectual equal Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) to stop him.  To aid him is Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) who doesn't want to help at all but finds himself doing so anyway, even if it means nearly missing his own wedding to Mary (Kelly Reilly).  Holmes also has the wit and wisdom of his older brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry), a vague figure in government, while Professor Moriarty has expert assassin Colonel Sebastian Moran (Paul Anderson).

I'd like to stop for a moment to say seeing it was Colonel Moran in A Game of Shadow was about the only genuine surprise I had while watching. 

Into this mix comes Gypsy Queen Simza (Noomi Rapace).  She's there for the thinnest of reasons, as is American criminal mistress Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, fulfilling what I guess was some contractual obligation to pop in for what was basically a pointless and contrived cameo). 

Well, anyway Moriarty is going to start a war, Holmes is going to stop him, Watson is going to have his honeymoon ruined, and Rapace is going to make her American film debut. 

That's about it in the story department.

Image result for sherlock holmes a game of shadowsA Game of Shadows appears desperate to go out of its way to be as idiotic and nonsensical as possible.  We never ever stop to actually find out what is going on because Ritchie and his scribes (Michele and Kieran Mulroney) don't really care about an actual plot with such unnecessary things as motivation or even coherence. 

Instead, all they want is to use Holmes and Company for one mindless action scene after another, logic be damned.  The truly important thing, Ritchie believes, is to show us his prowess with slow-motion.

And oh, how he shows us again and again how it will all turn out.  As I watched A Game of Shadows, I kept referring to these as Holmes' 'psychic moments' because he wasn't actually deducing something.  He was really predicting how something would turn out.  That had the effect of essentially removing the mystery out of the situation. 

I counted a total of six of these 'psychic moments', though we see that in the final one Moriarty is equally blessed with such abilities.  I figure this is how Moriarty is Holmes' equal and the 'Napoleon of Crime' in Holmes' words.

Somehow, the performances weren't there.  They certainly weren't there for the women: McAdams disappears, perhaps forever, within the first ten to fifteen minutes. Reilly isn't there for long either, and treated rather badly to boot.

Rapace has such a blank expression throughout A Game of Shadows.  Perhaps she was trying to figure out what exactly the plot or or how her character related to anything to do with the film altogether. 

I give some compliments to Harris, who actually would make a good President Grant in terms of appearance I thought, as the calm and calculating villain, but Downey was a gigantic disappointment as Holmes. 

At least in the first Sherlock Holmes he was more fun.  Here, he appears to think he should mix a little bit of humor, such as dressing in drag, with a far more serious tone and a weaker British accent.  At one point, Downey, Jr. actually looked like The Joker from The Dark Knight.

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Law isn't as good as he was in Sherlock Holmes either, and I suppose it is because the material really isn't there.  Equally useless is Fry.  Any thought that this man is suppose to be some intellectual giant was pretty much abandoned when we see a nude scene with Fry's bulbous body flapping about.

Even the little things I liked in the first Sherlock Holmes (such as Hans Zimmer's zippy score) were watered down and irrelevant in A Game of Shadows.  What is suppose to be an epic escape into the forest turns instead into a showcase for more slow-motion, which dilutes everything.

A Game of Shadows is just a way to ruin Sherlock Holmes' reputation among current film-goers who may never watch the Jeremy Brett series or the Basil Rathbone films.  There is nothing in A Game of Shadows that is really Sherlock Holmes.  It really Guy Ritchie adapting his signature fascination with the criminal underworld to a Victorian/Edwardian setting. 

A Game of Shadows in the end is SINO: Sherlock In Name Only.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Best of 2011 So Far

MAY 2018 UPDATE: As some films were left off and some shifted positions during my inventory of past reviews, this is an updated Ten Best Films of 2011 List. Note that some may shift again once all 2011 films reviewed have been cataloged. 

Having had a chance to revisit and revise things, I now look back on 2011 and find that a Top Ten List is possible.  I was aghast at how awful some films were in 2011, but now I can see that there were good things too.

The Iron Lady
The Iron Lady was curiously left off the rankings the first time round, and now I've corrected that.  Ostensibly a hatchet job meant to portray the first female British Prime Minister as a combination bitch/bonkers broad, The Iron Lady, at least for me, had an opposite effect and made me admire Maggie more.  I think Meryl Streep does more impersonation than genuine acting, but I also think it was a very good performance.  I don't think she should have won Best Actress for this performance, but there it is.

Arthur Christmas
Arthur Christmas is a new addition to this Top Ten List, having been seen after the first version was published.  In its short running span I found the story of Santa Claus' younger son Arthur to be a charming, delightful little film that will be a welcome addition come Christmastime.  I was enchanted by Arthur Christmas, and it takes a lot to enchant me.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
I've heard a lot of nonsense about how Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is "too complicated, too confusing,  you won't understand it".  I'm hardly a high intellectual, but I didn't have a hard time following the plot.  The same was said about Inception, and frankly I understood everything going on even if the open-ending didn't please the audience I was with, but now I digress. 

For those still concerned that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy may be too opaque to follow, I offer this: it's an intellectual spy thriller, and espionage isn't suppose to be obvious.  Gary Oldman, in one of his greatest screen performances, tell us so much about George Smiley with his perfectly controlled performance.  Tinker Tailor is a smorgasbord of brilliant screen actors: John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, and Colin Firth, all doing their best to show who is best among them, and the younger ones like Hardy and especially Cumberbatch (one to keep your eye on) keeping up with them. 

There isn't a false note, one off performance within the film. 

I am aware that there were more Smiley stories from John Le Carré, and while Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy ends with the faintest suggestion that there might be a sequel, this may be the first time I don't object to seeing more of The Circus. 

The People vs. George Lucas
The first of three documentaries to make my Top Ten List, The People vs. George Lucas is interesting in that it isn't a nerd bashing of our Star Wars creator nor is it an impassioned defense of our subject.  Rather, it is an exploration about nerd culture, about what the creators of these works owe/don't owe those who have embraced their work, and whether Lucas has been good or bad for the film industry.  Lucas is both blessed and cursed with Star Wars, loved and hated in equal and passionate measure.  How history will remember him is still unclear, but there will be no middle ground.

If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
The second documentary to make the list, If A Tree Falls is a film that snuck up on me.  As I watched it, I thought the story of the rise and fall of the environment group the Earth Liberation Front became a deeply personal story of one man: Daniel McGowan.  His is a sad story, one that haunts me still.

A great thing about If A Tree Falls is that it doesn't attempt to rationalize or lionize the actions of the ELF: we get to hear from the investigators, shown to be the efficient people they are, and those whose lumber mills were attacked, not the greedy monsters the ELF and their sympathizers paint them as.

At its heart, If A Tree Falls is about knowing people like McGowan and seeing him not as a monstrous, evil terrorist, but as merely a man, no different than you or me save for his actions.  I ended up liking McGowan even if I fiercely reject and condemn his work with the ELF.  If I were to ever take some sort of political stance, it would be for a Presidential pardon for Daniel McGowan.

The Artist
I thrill at the phrase, "one of the best films of 2011 is a silent film".  Technically, The Artist isn't an all-silent film: there is some sound including when we get to hear Jean Dujardin's obvious French accent.  However, The Artist proves what I have long argued about silent film in general: it is a beautiful thing, it isn't full of exaggerated acting, and the lack of dialogue is hardly missed.

The Artist has so much going for it: proof of how acting, true acting, doesn't need translations, the joy of films, that we can overlook some of its flaws (in particular the use of the Love Theme from Vertigo).  I don't know how good Mr. Dujardin or Miss Berenice Bejo's English is, but what you see on the screen is undeniable: great performances speak for themselves.

I didn't think that Pariah would be as good as it was, given how it touches a lot of what Precious took on: a young black woman in New York coming to her own.  However, unlike Precious, Pariah had an added hurdle: she wasn't just coming to her own, she was coming out.

Alike (pronounced A-Lee-Kay) has a remarkably difficult journey: not just to acknowledge her homosexuality to her parents, or even to herself, but to find out exactly who she is.  When she's with her butch friends, she is masculine in her attire and manner, down to going by 'Lee'.  With her family, she is more feminine even if her parents can't admit to themselves the truth they already know. 

Alike has the burden of first love and first love lost, but at the end, she finds out that she doesn't have to fit any image of who she's 'supposed' to be.  She becomes herself, and her journey is about to begin.  Her final poem about being broken, being open, being's simply some of the most beautiful dialogue I've heard all year.

If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have believed it: a 3-D children's movie by Martin Scorsese.  This is Martin Scorsese: the guy from Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Departed.  His bread and butter is the chronicling of the underbelly of society, so how he'd make a 3-D children's movie?

Here's how: he's Martin Scorsese: genius.  He also is Martin Scorsese: unabashed film enthusiast.  Hugo is a love letter to the early days of cinema, where it was done by literal magicians such as French film pioneer Georges Mélies.  The loving recreation of Mélies' studio and films are a tribute by one brilliant filmmaker to another.  We also couldn't help notice how Scorsese introduced the importance of film preservation into the story and do it so well.

Yes, it is amazing to see a man best know for gritty images of the criminal underworld give us such a lovely portrait of youth and childhood innocence.  Hugo has the added bonus of being, with the possible exception of Avatarthe only 3-D film where the 3-D didn't interfere with the story or appear out of place. 

There wasn't any 'thrusting out to the audience' images; instead, for me, the most beautiful and brilliant 3-D image will be of a snowy Parisian night.

I would never have thought that a documentary about a Formula One driver would have been not only so compelling, but so thrilling and ultimately so moving.  I figure there are thousands if not millions of people who have never heard of Ayrton Senna, but Senna is something that does what appears as impossible as one of his races: moves you emotionally.

Documentaries can be a hard sell, but Senna makes brilliant use of the thousands of hours of archival footage to make his life story a remarkable journey: both of Ayrton's soul and his races.   Soon, we thoroughly forget we're watching a documentary because we get caught up in the thrill of the race, the antagonism with Senna's racing rivals, his passion for his beloved Brazil and her people, and finally the great heartbreak of his death.

It is a sign of Senna's brilliance that it never feels like anything other than a real movie: we never see it as a dry recitation of facts.  It helps that Ayrton Senna's life was never dry. Senna, the documentary, may simply be too good to be remade as a feature.

And choice for the Best Picture of 2011...

Image result for jane eyre 2011
Jane Eyre
Few movies have stayed with me, continued deep in my memory, as Jane Eyre.  I saw this movie in April, and nearly a year later, I still get swept away into its romantic, brooding, Gothic story.  Jane Eyre still haunts me, still moves me, still remains in my memory, dazzling me with its sweeping romance. 

I can't think of a film from 2011 that had such brilliant performances.  Michael Fassbender seems to be able to run a wide range, from Magneto to the swoon-worthy Mr. Rochester.  Then there's Mia Wasikowska.  I don't think I was ever as overwhelmed by a performance as I was with Wasikowska's in Jane Eyre.  I cannot help but admire and love Mia Wasikowska for her extraordinary range equal to Fassbender, with the bonus that her career is shorter than his.

Throw in great performances from Dame Judi Dench andJamie Bell, and one of the best adaptations of a literary work. I was totally wrapped in the film at the onset and when it was over, I truly wanted more.  I confess to never having read the book, but if it's as good as the movie, it deserves its reputation as a literary classic.

When Mr. Rochester tells Jane, "you transfix me quite", I could have said the same about Jane Eyre: my choice for the Best Picture of 2011.